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Acclaimed Germany based Indonesian filmmaker Monica Vanesa Tedja is preparing for her feature directorial project “Dear Family,” selected at the Southeast Asia Film Lab, which is part of the Singapore Media Festival.

Tedja got hooked on the medium watching her father film family vacations with his handycam when she was seven. She studied filmmaking for her bachelors degree in Indonesia and made several shorts among which “How to Make a Perfect Xmas Eve” (2012) was a Blencong Award nominee at the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival. She went on to do a masters in film directing in Germany and her 2021 thesis short film “Dear to Me,” won the German young talent award First Steps, for graduation films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland and also scored a special mention at Locarno.

“Dear Family,” an observation of Asian family dynamics, will follow Tim, whose devout Christian parents find out about his same-sex attraction and he applies for film school abroad.

“Growing up in a big Asian family such as mine, a rebellious confrontation is considered foreign, as we are taught from early years that our purpose in life is to make our parents and family happy,” Tedja tells Variety. “As a result, most dreams and desires are regrettably ‘unlived’ and even repressed. Family is the first social institution that a human being is given, privileged with, when they first step into the world, yet the concept is often mis-constructed or even misconstrued.”

“I try to make the story into a semi-autobiography – a mixture of lived and reconstructed experiences but also some imaginative improvisational scenes, where the realm of reality, dreams and memories blend in together,” adds Tedja. “By returning to the first juncture where I found comfort in filmmaking, I wish to reflect on my own decision of being a filmmaker, as well as being a part of a family. By creating ‘Dear Family,’ I hope to create a space for us to collectively start a conversation of what an ideal family should actually look like.”

The project is at an early stage of development, and participating in film labs that focus more on the development process itself, such as Southeast Asian Film Lab by SGIFF. Tedja’s producer Astrid Saerong, is also participating at the Southeast Asian Producers Network. Earlier, the project’s other producer, Gugi Gumilang, participated at Open Doors Lab in Locarno. Tedja herself took part in the recently-concluded Cutting Edge Talent Camp, the German development lab for first- and second-time feature directors operated by the International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg.

Speaking of the challenges facing Indonesian cinema, Tedja lists audience apathy towards homegrown independent fare and lack of support from the government in terms of funding, grants and distribution.

“This has created a chicken and egg situation – no market, no investment. The trust that an emerging filmmaker is expected to get in order to make films, in my case; my first debut feature project, is massive. And since there are not many opportunities to get the film funded without having to compromise the creative vision, Indonesian emerging filmmakers tend to seek help from outside of our country, i.e. international co-productions, outside funding and investments. As much as this is possible, it also creates a bigger pool of competition on an international scale,” says Tedja.

However, Tedja notes the recent global success of Indonesian cinema as a step forward, citing the Locarno laurel for Edwin’s “Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash,” the Toronto triumph for Kamila Andini’s Oscar contender “Yuni” and the Busan boost for Tumpal Tampubolon’s short “The Sea Calls For Me,” which was the joint winner of the Sonje award.

“We can only hope that either part of the ecosystem will open the gate for Indonesian cinemas, because the effort clearly cannot come only from the filmmakers,” says Tedja. “We need the collective effort to create a space for us to grow together, for Indonesian cinema to thrive as a big part of our culture.”

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Monica Vanesa Tedja